Monday, January 25, 2016

Baseball and Bibles

My son has been playing baseball since he was 4 years old.  A total of 13 seasons, 9 teams, 2 summer tournament teams, and a whole lot of practices.  And we're gearing up for his 14th season.  I've spent a lot of time sitting in bleachers and I have the horrible tan lines to prove it.  I've become a pro at packing ice chests and meals on the go, and I am the baseball mom with the super adorable blingy shirts because if I'm going to sit out there for hours, I'm going to sparkle while I do it.

For years we were fortunate to never have a conflict between baseball and church.  Practices and games always happened to be scheduled around Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings.  And then, my son started playing with a traveling tournament team.  Suddenly there were three games each weekend, two practices each week, and he was only 6 years old. I will never forget the first time I had to make a decision: what do I do? Baseball or bibles?  He had to be at the field just as church was ending, but from church to the field was another 30-45 minutes.  He would be so late to the field, and at this level of tournament ball, you were late if you showed up on time.  

So, I dressed him in his uniform, packed his gear bag, made sure we had waters in the ice chest, packed our lunches, and headed out the door.  I didn't want to be church.  I'll be honest, we left service at the last song, we didn't stay to fellowship, but I wanted my son to know that I needed church first.

We were late to the field.  He was placed at the bottom of the lineup.  And that's all I remember about that game.  But I do remember laughing as we ran to the car after church.  I do remember watching my son smile each time someone in the congregation complimented him on his uniform.  And I do remember acknowledging that this would be the first time of many to come in which I would have to choose: baseball or bibles.

We encountered many of these instances over the years, and I have missed several of his games.  I've had other baseball moms pick him up from church to go to a game, or drop him off at church after an early morning game.
Are you wondering why I missed the games and he didn't?  Why did I allow him to play in a game and miss church?  Don't get me wrong, he's missed more than a few games.  But why am I allowing him to play baseball and miss church?

Because there is a very real battle in my home.

My husband, although he loves my church family and respects my decision to attend church, doesn't agree with me that bibles come before baseball.  Oh girl, if you could've heard the arguments in our home about baseball.  You would've thought that we were either signing him up for the MLB or shipping him off on a mission team.  We were both adamant about our views of priority.  

I prayed for a long time...about baseball.  Who would've ever thought that my prayers would be about baseball.  "How can I show my son that You come first?  How can I win this battle?  Is this a battle I should be fighting?  God, help me!"  

Why have I missed so many of his games?  Because I have a need to be at church.  And my son knows that.  My son knows that I will stay to watch his warm-up and a half hour of the game, but then I will leave to go to church.  My son knows that he has to wear his uniform to church because immediately afterwards he has a game.  My son knows that at 11:00 he will leave church because another baseball mom is picking him up to take him to the game and I will be there later.

He knows.

Now, I've had a couple different people, especially my husband, tell me that because I am not making his sport a priority that I am ultimately not making him a priority, which will translate to my son that I do not care about him.  And, wow, that has played a significant role in my thought process: "am I doing more harm than good? Am I ultimately making him feel like I don't care?"  

This past fall season, I don't think I saw more than a couple games in their entirety.  And all of his games were on Sundays because he plays with a club team.  And guess what.  He still knows that I love him with an immeasurable passion, and I love his sport.  And I love how good he is at playing baseball.  And I love to watch him play!

He also knows that by making God my priority, I am ultimately making him my priority.  

Before the fall season started, I sat down with my son and explained to him why I would not be at every game.  It wasn't because I was too busy and it certainly wasn't because I didn't want to be there.  I have a need for God in my life.  Without God, I'm not a good mother, I'm not a good wife.  He's 10 years old now, and I don't expect him to have a full comprehension about what those words mean, but you know what?  He will grow up knowing that my need for God comes before anything else.  He will grow up knowing that God is and will be my priority.  He will grow up knowing that my standard of living is based upon scripture.

My son, song leading for the Sunday School teachers before his baseball uniform.

I'm not always going to win favor with him as he grows older in his baseball career.  But right now, he knows and understands that I will always put God first.  And you can believe that as soon as church is over, I will be heading straight to the ball field to watch the rest of his game.  You better believe that I will wake up early to drive him to the field to watch him warm-up and catch the first hour of the game.  (And you better believe that I am praising God for the games that are either late in the afternoon, or on a different day, so I don't have to miss even a minute of them!)

When my son is older, he will have the privilege (and the conflict) of choosing whether he will live for baseball or bibles...but until then, I pray that I am helping him to see the foundation of my faith.  

Heading into church, baseball and bible ready!
My son knows that I'm his biggest cheerleader...I don't have to worry about being at every game for him to have confidence in knowing that.  Because what I want more than anything is for my son to grow up with the ability to say, "nothing stood in between my mom and God."

This week begins our 14th season, and my biggest worry isn't about how many games I'll miss or's trying to decide which new blingy baseball shirt I want to wear this season.

This is how I roll into church on game days



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Everyday of Her Life

In my last blog post I shared about my grandfather's recent passing and the way in which he inspired me to "get up and go back in" when it came to sharing my faith with others.

His memorial service was a touching experience.  We watched as the Marine Honor Guard presented a flag to my grandmother; we cried, smiled and laughed as photos of him flashed on a screen in front of us, and we beamed with pride as the pastor described my grandfather as being a true man of God.  It was a beautiful day.

That evening my grandmother called me into the hallway near the bedroom of her home.  For several moments, we stood embraced in each other's arms as we cried and talked about my grandfather.  Many things were said, but something that has stayed with me since leaving her that night was when she said, "I knew he loved me every day of my life. And that's what makes it so hard."

Now, I've been known to be somewhat of a romantic, and for those who know me, it is known that "words of affirmation" is my primary love language (by the way, if you haven't read "The 5 Love Languages," by Gary Chapman, please read it - it's amazing), so hearing my grandmother say this spoke so loudly to me.  My grandfather was not a soft, squishy "grandpa" type, but when he and I went on dinner dates together, he would speak so highly of my grandmother and I could see how much he valued her.  And anyone who spent any length of time with them could always catch a glimpse of Grandad giving Grandma a little pat on the tush every now and then, too.  Bottom line, we knew he loved her every day of her life, as well.

My grandmother knew, with confidence, that my grandfather loved her every day of her life.

I got to thinking: could my husband say that about me?  Could my husband confidently say, "I knew she loved me every day of my life?"

My grandparents were married for almost 66 years at the time of his passing.  I know there is not a marriage out there than can span six decades in complete bliss. He didn't write love poems every day, or recite sonnets regularly.  I know they endured hardships, trials and arguments - after all, what marriage doesn't?  But every night, my grandfather fell asleep holding her.  Every day he loaded and unloaded the dishwasher for her.  He took care of their finances.  He provided their lifestyle. He spoke love to her with his actions, and she recognized his love for her.

In order for my grandmother to be able to say that she knew my grandfather loved her, that required two things to happen:

1)  He was diligent about speaking love to her with his actions.
2)  She was able to recognize it.

They both had a part in my grandmother's statement.  My grandfather had to act on his love for her, and she had to be able to see love in his actions.

I once saw a picture on Pinterest (my favorite website ever) that read, "There are a million ways to say I love you...'buckle your seatbelt,' 'watch your step,' 'get some rest,' just have to listen."  Isn't that the truth?  I have no problem yelling at my kids (for the millionth time) to put on their helmets, and every time they roll their eyes, which prompts me to say, "why do Daddy and I have rules?" To which they reply in a monotone voice, "to keep us safe."  Bingo!  In other words: because we love you, we want to protect you.

Like our kids, who misinterpret our display of love, we can often misinterpret our husband's love for us.  We may claim to feel that our husbands don't love us because they aren't showing us love the way we think we should receive it.  But the reality is that they love us more than anything in the world, we're just not recognizing their "love language."

Because my primary love language is "words of affirmation," I feel the most loved when someone speaks lovingly to me or about me.  I cherish notes and cards; I even cherish text messages and voicemails! Anything that involves words will speak loudly to me...which is both a good thing and a bad thing.  I can be lifted up or torn down with a simple sentence.

"Words of affirmation" is definitely not my husband's love language.  His love language is "acts of service," which means that he feels the most loved when I do something of service to him (for example, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, etc).  For my husband, when he comes home from work to see his hamper is empty and all his clothes are clean, it's as though I covered his closet with love bubbles and confetti hearts.  But when he has come home to find the clean dishes still in the dishwasher, he translates that as I don't care enough about him to take care of him.

Ok, are you thinking what I first thought when discovering his love language?  "Typical man. Wants things done for him and all I'm asking for is a love note."  Here's the thing:  my husband will spend his days off working around the house, fixing things that need to be done...because he loves me.  I've come home from work and he is beaming with excitement to show me the light he put in my closet.  Because his love language is "acts of service," he shows me love by the things he does for me - as he "serves" me.

But I have to recognize it.

Sure, anybody can look at that and say, "well, yeah! He should be doing things like that! He's a man! He's a provider! That's his nature!"  But not every man is like that.  Some men don't know how to install new light fixtures or electrical boxes, and that's ok. I can promise that they have different love languages.

Clearly you can see that I am wordy person.  I can take 20 pages and tell my husband all the things I love about him.  I can find the most perfect card and write a deeply heartfelt note inside...and even though I know he greatly appreciates it, he is more impacted by knowing I took care of something in the house so he didn't have to do it.

Here's how the translation looks:

"Jennifer took care of the car today = she did that so I wouldn't have to = she loves me and cares about me."

"Ryan sent me a text and used the heart emoji = he's thinking about me = he loves me and cares about me."

I'm speaking words, he's speaking service.  I'm not always going to speak his language, and he is not always going to speak mine.  But we have to be able to recognize when we are translating our love to each other.

Getting back to my grandparents, my grandmother had to do her part to be able to confidently say that she knew she was loved every day, and my grandfather had to do his part in showing his love for her daily.

How about you?  Could your husband confidently say that you loved him every day of his life?  Are you speaking his love language?  And do you recognize when he is showing love to you?

I'm still learning how to recognize our different love's something that makes me wish I had a pocket translator.

But, if someone were to ask me today, I can confidently say that despite our hard days, I know that my husband has loved me every day of my life...because I can recognize his love.

Your language may be different than your husband's, and most likely it is, but like any foreign language, if you learn to speak it, and learn to listen to it, you will see how very loved you are.

Every day of your life.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Get Up and Go Back In

I've been staring at a blank page for quite some time now.  Tons of thoughts are running through my head but seem impossible to put on paper.  

Just a few days ago, we were forced to say good-bye to my grandfather, the true patriarch of our family.  He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer only a couple months ago, and already we are suffering the loss of this great man.  

I was privileged to grow up with his presence in my life, whether it was flying down the lake in his fishing boat, or trying to encourage me because I was wearing a very unflattering baby doll dress, or shining up his Cadillac to chauffeur my new husband and I to our hotel after our wedding, Grandad has consistently had a presence in my life.  

My Grandad always exuded strength and confidence; he appeared to be a man whose core couldn't be shaken.  His hugs were strong, and his pats on the back felt like gentle spankings. He was a former Marine. He worked his way to the top of a corporation. He was not only well-liked, but he commanded respect without having to ask for it. I knew that when he spoke, he meant business.  As a young girl, I was convinced that my grandfather didn't have a soft spot anywhere in (or on) his body.  

Growing up, it was common knowledge that Grandad and Grandma went to church every Sunday.  My family would join them on Easter Sunday, and occasionally I would tag along if I happened to be staying with them during summer. My parents did not attend church regularly, so the most I knew about church was that I wasn't allowed to talk, nor was I allowed to have some of the crackers and juice that was being passed around.

And then I became an adult.  And then I became a Christian.  And then, my grandfather opened his soft heart to me. 

A few years back, my children and I went to visit my grandparents.  With two small children in tow, it was difficult to find a quiet moment to spend with my grandparents, but somehow, my grandfather and I stumbled upon an afternoon that allowed the two of us to talk privately.  What began as small talk about the church I was attending, slowly grew into a profound discussion about God, faith, and our job to deliver the truth.

There were two things I saw in my grandfather during that conversation: his conviction, and vulnerability.  

He was deeply convicted about the truth of God's word, as well as the urgency to share truth with those whom he loved the most. But in his boldness was also his vulnerability. He handed me one of several printed packets that were sitting on his desk.  He shared with me that he spent hours poring over his words as he prepared to send these packets to those whom he loved. My grandfather asked me to proofread his work for him. He shared with me his fear of pushing loved ones away because he was daring to be so bold. He asked me to read it carefully, not just for another set of eyes to seek correction, but to make sure he didn't sound unloving or harsh.  In his voice I could hear his fear, but behind the quiver in his tone, was the strength of his faith.  

As I began to read the pages of his packet, I could see the heart he placed in every word. Scripture was quoted, Jesus's words were in red, and every truth, every promise, was laid bare for the recipients to read.

After reading the work of my grandfather's heart, I returned the packet to him as he looked at me with eager eyes.  I could tell he was anxious to know what I thought about his work, but more importantly, what I thought about his need to send these packets out into the world.   

As I left to return home, I could feel a difference in my grandfather's hug.  I'm not sure if the hug was tighter because we connected deeper than we ever had before, or because we had this little secret that had not been exposed yet, but whatever the reason, I knew that his hug was the pivoting moment of our relationship.

I'm not sure whatever happened with those packets.  I know he mailed them out, but to this day, I do not know how they were received.  One thing I do know is that for the next few years following that conversation, my grandfather did not stop speaking the truth.  He got back up and kept going.  

The day after he received his diagnosis, I spent a half hour on the phone with him.  I sat in the parking lot of a supermarket as I listened to him cry...but he wasn't crying about his fate.  What brought him to tears was not the fear of death, but the fear of not seeing his loved ones in heaven one day.  He cried to me that he had spoken truthfully to family members about their destiny and he feared that he hurt them in the process.  Many words were shared between us in those thirty minutes, but as he pulled himself together, he said to me, "if we don't tell them, who will?"  And again, he got back up and kept going.

Tonight has been a night filled with reflection about those two profound conversations I shared with my grandfather.  And as I looked back, admiring his boldness, I was reminded of a story about Paul in the book of Acts.  In Acts, chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas are preaching in Jewish about a rough audience.  

"At Iconium, Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue.  There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greek believed.  But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.  So, Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord. ... There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them.  But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news. ... Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds over.  They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city." Acts 14:1-20 [emphasis added by me]

A few things that strike me when I read this:

1) "as usual..."  - I love this.  It was so common for Paul to place himself in Jewish synagogues that even scripture records it as being his usual behavior.  That's how frequently Paul was putting himself in, what I imagine could've been, uncomfortable situations to spread God's truth.  Have you ever done that?  My grandfather certainly did when he mailed out those packets....and I'm sure what could be heard was, "as usual, here he is talking about church and God again."

2) "So, ...spent considerable time, speaking boldly for the Lord..." - Paul and Barnabas were being challenged!  I know we've all encountered that before.  What do we do when we are challenged?  Do we give up?  Or do we spend considerable time speaking boldly to our challengers?  

3) "...continued to preach the good news...." - ok, Paul and Barnabas are being threatened, so they decide to let the area cool down a bit, but they don't stop preaching.  Have you ever encountered someone like that?  The discussion about God becomes heated, so you have to walk away for a bit and let it cool down.  But does that discourage you from continuing to share? Do you stop preaching? Or do you let that heart cool down while you travel along and continue to share God's word? 

4) "...won the crowds over...stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead..." - That heated heart found some friends and is now traveling in packs to take you down.  I've encountered that before; one person says one thing, who tells another, who tells another, and before you know it, people are accusing you of being judgmental, self-righteous and arrogant.  You are verbally "stoned," with sharp comments being thrown at you to hurt you and make you give up.

5) " up and went back into the city..." - Paul had every reason to walk away after being stoned and left for dead.  I don't think anybody would've thought negatively about Paul if scripture read that he got up and left the city.  But he did the exact opposite.  He got up - and went back in.  Do you do that when you've been emotionally "stoned?"  Do you get up and walk away, or do you get up, brush off the hurt, and walk back in?

I am so proud of my grandfather because, like Paul, he got up, brushed off the hurt and walked back into the city.  I know that as he poured his heart out into those packets he waited with an anxious heart.  That was many years ago, and I know that as days, months and years passed, he kept waiting.  He could've allowed the lack of response to discourage him from continuing to share, but he didn't.  He continued to preach.  On the day he was given the news of his diagnosis, he could've thrown in the towel and said, "oh well, I tried."  But instead, he spoke words of truth.  He brushed off the hurt and went back into the city.  Paul had an urgency to share God's truth with the citizens in that city, he didn't let the emotional or physical hurt stop him from talking about God.  

My grandfather had an urgency to share God's truth with those whom he loved the most, and he didn't let the emotional, or physical, hurt stop him from talking about God. He got up and went back in.

I am so proud to be his granddaughter. 
I pray that for all the days of my life I find the courage to be bold enough that scripture could record my sharing as being "usual" of my character.  

Thank you, Grandad, for not letting fear trump truth.  Thank you for getting up and going back in to finish what God desired of you.  Thank you for loving all of us enough to speak with a bold heart for our Lord.  And thank you for showing me what it means to "get up and go back in."

I'll see you again, me a seat.  :)